What is nausea and vomiting?

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Nausea and vomiting in children: Overview

Vomiting occurs when a child's stomach contents are forced up the esophagus and out of the mouth. Nausea is a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. Although nausea may come with vomiting in adults and older children, children younger than age 3 usually can't tell you if they have it. Most of the time vomiting isn't serious. Home treatment will often ease your child's discomfort.

Vomiting in a baby should not be confused with spitting up. Vomiting is forceful and repeated. Spitting up may seem forceful. But it usually occurs shortly after feeding, is effortless, and causes no discomfort.

Causes of vomiting

A baby may spit up for no reason at all. Overfeeding, not burping your baby after feeding, intolerance to milk or formula, and exposure to tobacco smoke are other reasons why your baby may spit up.

Most vomiting in children is caused by a viral stomach illness (gastroenteritis). A child with a stomach illness also may have other symptoms, such as diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. With home treatment, the vomiting usually will stop within 12 hours. Diarrhea may last for a few days or more.

Rotavirus is a virus that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. The rotavirus vaccine helps protect against rotavirus disease.

Vomiting can also be caused by an infection in another part of the body. Examples are strep throat, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. In rare cases, vomiting can be a symptom of a serious condition. These include a blockage of the digestive tract (pyloric stenosis), an infection (meningitis) of the fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) and tissues (meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord, and Reye syndrome.

When a toddler vomits, it's important to make sure that he or she has not swallowed medicines, household liquids, or other poisons. Look around the house for empty containers and spills. There may be pills in your child's vomit. Or the vomit may have an odd appearance, color, or odor.

A child who falls down and forcefully hits his or her head or belly may vomit because of an injury to those areas. Check your child's body for bruises and other injuries.

Treatment

Babies and children younger than 1 year old need special attention if they continue to vomit. They can quickly get dehydrated. It's important to replace lost fluids when your child is vomiting. Watch your child carefully. Pay close attention to the amount of fluid that your child can drink. Look for early symptoms of dehydration.

  • The mouth and eyes may be drier than usual.
  • The urine may be less than usual.
  • Your child may feel cranky, tired, or dizzy.

Also, be sure to notice the color of the vomit, and count the number of times your child vomits. If your child vomits so often that you can't get him or her to drink, or if your child vomits every time he or she takes a drink, the risk of dehydration is greater.

Teens: How can you care for nausea and vomiting?

  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better.
  • Rest in bed until you feel better.
  • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • Suck on peppermint candy or chew peppermint gum. Some people think peppermint helps an upset stomach.

How can you manage the side effects of chemotherapy?

Nausea and vomiting

  • After vomiting has stopped for 1 hour, sip a rehydration drink, such as Pedialyte.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better.
  • When you are feeling better, eat small amounts of food.

Loss of appetite

  • Try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss.
  • When you feel like eating, start with small amounts of food.

Pain control

  • If your doctor prescribes medicines to control pain, take them as directed.
  • Try using relaxation exercises to lower your anxiety and stress, which can increase pain.
  • Keep track of your pain so you can tell your doctor what your pain is like. Write down where you feel pain, how long it lasts, what seems to bring it on, and how it feels. Also note what makes the pain feel better or worse.

Mouth sores

  • Make a rinse to keep your mouth from getting dry. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon salt to a quart of water. Use it to rinse your mouth 4 to 6 times each day.
  • When you feel like eating, start with small amounts of soft food.
  • Drinking through a straw may help with pain.

Diarrhea

  • Before you take any type of over-the-counter medicine, tell your doctor that you are having diarrhea.
  • Drink plenty of room-temperature fluids to prevent dehydration. Take frequent sips of water and other clear liquids until you feel better.
  • Eat small meals often throughout the day instead of three big meals.

Weakness and feeling tired

  • Try to get some exercise, such as walking, but stop if you are too tired.
  • Do something you enjoy. Do you like to listen to music? Spend some time listening to your favorite music. Or find another way to relax by reading, watching a movie, or playing games.
  • Ask family and friends to help with home chores and other tasks.

To prevent infections

  • Wash your hands often during the day, especially before you eat and after you use the bathroom.
  • Stay away from people who have illnesses that you might catch, such as the flu or a cold.
  • Try to stay out of crowds.

Hair loss

  • Use a mild shampoo and a soft hair brush.
  • Use sunscreen and a hat, scarf, or turban to protect your scalp from the sun.
  • Ask your doctor about other treatments that you may try to prevent or minimize hair loss. These may include the use of a cooling cap.

Nausea and vomiting in teens: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes, a dry mouth, and pass only a little urine.
  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You are sensitive to light or feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have new or worsening belly pain.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The vomiting lasts longer than 2 days.
  • You vomit more than 10 times in 1 day.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.